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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Putting the Cart before the Horse

What started as a rumour has finally become reality with the news that President Jonathan has sent a bill to the National for a single tenure of six years for the President and Governors. I was not shocked by the news but certainly surprised especially when we are only two months into a 4-year mandate. A mandate that promised so much but now in danger of losing focus on the issues that really matter.

Tenure elongation is a phenomenon that has sadly become synonymous with African leaders and Nigerian leaders, past and present are major culprits. This has led me to ask what goes on in the mind of the black man, especially African leaders? Do they recognise they occupy a position that could transform lives rather than worry about the small matter of tenure? Do they really understand that the greatness of a leader is about how well and not how long they stay in office? Do they read history books, especially the legacy left by our very own Nelson Mandela? You would have imagined lessons would have been learnt judging by the fact it was not long ago former President Obasanjo failed in his attempt to get himself an illegal third term. But no, despite the fact there is a mountain of developmental issues to deal with, what seems to be more important is how long should politicians stay in office. However, we are now down this path once again, putting the cart before the horse. We have been told by the Presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, that if successful, this will take effect from 2015 and would not in any way benefit the president. Well if it won't benefit the president then surely it should not be a priority for us when there are more pressing issues to deal with, not least the current insecurity situation made worse by the Boko Haram crisis. The worry is that this will run and run for the life of this administration and rather than focus on developmental issues we will once again be bugged down discussing tenure elongation.

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I am not a lawyer but I know that the tenure of the president and governors is a constitutional provision which can only be changed by amending the constitution. So why send a bill to the National Assembly instead of request for a constitutional amendment? Or am I missing something here? Anyway, focus will now turn to the National Assembly and this will be the first real test for an assembly with two-thirds of whose members are new. I hope they do not waste too much time debating an issue which in my view serves only as an unwelcome distraction at a time when they should be carrying out their oversight functions of bringing sustainable development to a country that has stagnated for too long.

What this goes to show is that once again we have failed to learn from history and you wonder how we can make progress when we keep failing to look back to our past to inform our future. Nigerians are yet to know the policy thrust of the current government. Where do their immediate priorities lie? Is it in Education? Health? Public infrastructure, a combination of two or more? Nigerians have waited for too long for basic human needs and we need our leaders to get on with the difficult tasks ahead but a distraction like tenure elongation certainly won't help.

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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Minimum Wage or Minimum Disgrace?

Each time I turn on my computer to blog or comment about issues in Nigeria, it's always with a deep sense of frustration because you know the issues are to do with things that you would imagine will be easy to sort out. Unfortunately in Nigeria we tend to make things look more complex than they really are; we don't do things the easy way, do we? The 18,000 Naira minimum wage controversy came to almost an anti-climax with the calling off or suspension of the strike action proposed by the Nigeria Labour Congress last week. Whilst some states Governments have agreed and signed up to implement the payment, some are still insisting they can't afford it, something I struggle to believe and understand. First, let's try and put the 18,000 Naira into some sort of perspective. If you break down 18,000 monthly minimum wage in weekly terms it works out as 4,000/week and daily wage of 900 Naira. If you go further to calculate the wage in hourly terms, that gives just under 130 Naira per hour. This gives an equivalent to 50pence or about 30cents. How politicians  lay claim not to have the capacity to pay an average worker, a man presumably with a wife and two children 130/hour is simply astonishing and completely beyond me. Nigeria is rated as the second largest producer of oil by OPEC in its latest Annnual Statistical Bullentin (even though Iran currently disputes this) add to the soaring oil prices and excess oil revenue and yet we say we cannot pay a paltry amount of 18,000 Naira.

In contrast, we pay or our politicians pay themselves huge sums running into hundreds of millions of naira, not to mention those that are disguised as security votes, estacodes, constituency allowance and all manner of allowances. In my view, I wonder how anyone in Nigeria could survive on the pittance they call minimum wage especially in a country where people have to generate their own electricity; provide their own water supply; pay for their children to be privately educated because government schools have been left to decay and what is being served is nothing close to an education.

So why do our political leaders find it that difficult to pay and incentify our public servants? I think the politicians themselves would be the ones well placed to come up with a better and more credible argument other than the hard-to-sell position of their inability to pay. What this goes to show is the way we seem to prioritise what is more important for us in our society. Do we want to have a motivated public service that will be at the heart of driving government policies? Or do we want to continue to have an overbloated political structure with a retinue of political appointees and advisers of all manner of names who end up taking up a chunk of the government revenue in allowances/salaries.

Whilst I strongly believe the current 18,000 Naira minimum wage that is currently haggled over is nothing short of a disgrace, in fact I think it should be more than that figure if we take into account the astronomical cost of living in Nigeria. However, I am of the view that it's high time we took a step back and also look at the professionalism of our public/civil servants. It is no secret that a trip to most government offices in Nigeria is not a always a very pleasant one judging by poor customer service, lack of courtsey and the notion you have to 'grease' someone's palm to get want you want. These sorts of behaviours and attitudes has no place in a modern workforce that is key in driving reforms and policies of government. Government at all levels need to invest in training of public sector workers especially in the area of ethics, professionalism and policies. They also need to look at the code of conduct for their workers, if they have one, make it available and highlight the significance and importance of sticking to its provisions.

source: Google images
Time is overdue for us to start getting our priorities right; we've been left behind by the rest of the world and we run the danger of drifting further behind if we fail to take steps to pay a basic wage that is simply not beyond us to do. Afterall, we're supposed to be a rich nation so therefore let us start putting our money where our mouth is.

image source: Google images

Friday, 15 July 2011

Boko Haram & The Culture of Militancy

With the spate of bomb blasts now becoming common place in different parts of Nigeria, I am left wondering how did we get here. Militancy is nothing new in Nigeria; we have seen them in different names and modus operandi; OPC, MASSOB, MEND and the latest in the line, Boko Haram. By whatever name they go by, militancy is always driven by an ideology rightly or wrongly. It seems to me that we have lived as a nation over the last 50 years pretending like all was well but in reality we are a nation of many nations. I am not in any way advocating for the break up of Nigeria but what we can no longer deny is that we need to sit round a table and discuss the basis of our unity, whether you want to call it sovereign national conference is irrelevant, what is imperative is that Nigeria is at a crossroad. The same reasons why we fought a bitter civil war are still hanging over us and I see no difference between with what is being agitated for now or back then in 1967. However, what is baffling is that the political leadership in our country still cannot see the handwriting on the wall. If we keep avoiding what has now become inevitable we will only be postponing the evil day.

On the interim, we cannot allow a small group of people to hold a whole nation to ransom with the senseless killings of innocent people who are mostly poor and has nothing to do with the failure of the state to look after its own. Human life as always has been made to remain cheap but how cheap can it get before we start taking the security of lives as the most important job of the state. You do not fight militancy with guns and bombs but with dialogue and education.

Boko Haram remains a symptom of a very deeper problem which highlights the complexities of the failing arrangement called Nigeria. Without resorting to a lecture on how the 1914 amalgamation created the entity called Nigeria, this relationship nonetheless led to the coming together of nations within nations. Whilst there is nothing wrong in this arrangement, there is something unworkable with the current arrangement that is partly responsible to the rise and rise of mlitant groups that pose a great threat to the survival of our country. We need to also look at how despite billions of dollars of revenue from oil, Nigeria remains a poor country. In a country where two thirds of its citizens live on less than $1.25 per day and more than four fifths less than $2 per day, then its not much of a surprise when young abled bodied men carry guns and bombs on a killing rampage. They have nothing to do because society has abandoned them with limited opportunities and an unispiring education that has failed to empower them.

The time has come when as a country we need to finally accept that the current political and economic arrangement is just not working. We are made to believe that there are over 250 ethnic nationalities in the Nigerian project; it is high time those different nationalities gathered in whatever name you want to call it and discuss the basis of their unity and economic well-being. The discussions need to be frank and open with compromise where necessary. The outcome of those discussions which would no doubt be long and drawn-out, should form the basis of a new constitution.

The days of foot-dragging and pussyfooting are well and truly over if we want history to be kind to us otherwise if we fail to learn from history, we will one day become history ourselves.

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Monday, 11 July 2011

Our Collective Short Memory

The 2011 NYSC Batch 'B' Orientation commenced on the 5th of July 2011 and is expected to last until the 26th. Recent news reports have it that prospective NYSC corps members had previously besieged the NYSC National secretariat in Abuja to influence their postings away from potential trouble spots or otherwise what is now known as 'Boko Haram' states in the North. I find it hard to believe that barely 3 months after innocent youth corps members were slaughtered in some states in the North following the last Presidential elections and all the hoopla that followed, it does appear that the issue has since faded away to obscurity and in typical Nigerian fashion it's business as usual. We seem to pretend like nothing ever happened and the lives of those brave young men and women and others that were killed seems to have been forgotten reinforcing the argument that human life in our country seems to be worth very little. The truth remains that the wounds of what happened in the April elections is still fresh in the mind made worse by the lack of any purposeful action taken to bring those responsible to justice and the inability of the National Assembly or civil society to hold any form of public debate about the future of the NYSC scheme. In the light of these atrocities, why would any sane parent or relative allow their children to serve in these states where insecurity currently rules? Or are we waiting for another disaster to happen only to hear dull speeches from politicians telling us how those killed are heroes of democracy and paid the ultimate sacrifice? Well enough of that, we want our brightest young men and women to be alive to apply their skills and knowledge to the challenges that confronts us everyday as a nation.We don't want dead heroes but we want them alive to contribute to nation building.

On the flipside, when this sort of things happen I am left wondering what those whom this will affect directly are doing about it or is it a case of all man for himself and God for us all? Let me start by challenging the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) whose mandate is to represent the interest of Nigerian students and youths. When are they going to start engaging the powers that be on issues like this which is at the very heart of any interest group that claims to speak on behalf of students and youths? What have the prospective corps members done or are doing to mobilise themselves to engage their Governors and National Assembly members in their states in order to create publicity and also to give it the attention it deserves; to also ensure they were not posted to places where their lives might be in danger. Then we take a close look at the role of the media in all this; who sets the news agenda in the Nigerian media and why has this not taken a prominent news space in the editorials and columnists?

It is sad if you believe the papers that their has been intense lobbying by individuals to influence their postings to state where they desire to serve. Who is going to lobby for those without 'connections' in high places? It is high time we began to be selfless in our thoughts and actions if we are ever going to challenge the status quo in our society. In the wider context, this highlights the ignorance and lack of cohesion in the way we advocate for change in Nigeria. I am very worried going by the recent spate of bomb blasts especially in some sections of country. The whole despicable atrocities that happened after the April elections is staring us in the face if urgent steps are not taken to address the NYSC scheme. There has got to be sweeping reforms on the future of the scheme and on the interim corps members should be posted to states within their region pending the outcome of reforms. I do like the NYSC scheme and what it stands for being a product of the scheme myself but its current format and the danger it exposes our young and brightest is unsustainable.

Our country is at a crossroad and the least we could now is to engage in collective engagement to address the issues that has held us hostage in the last 50 years. If we keep speaking and acting in discordant tunes them I'm afraid our collective short memory which has become an albatross of some sort will continue to haunt us.

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